Sunday, 10 April 2016

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

I tell a student that the most important class you can take is technique. A great chef is first a great technician. 'If you are a jeweller, or a surgeon or a cook, you have to know the trade in your hand. You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repetition until it belongs to you. 
Jacques Pepin

Endless repetition!

Everyday cooking can become one – at least in some sense of the term I think. While we all experiment, there are some things that get repeated over and over again. Or rather, we hold on to and fine tune some basic techniques that get more or less ingrained in us.
For instance, there is a fixed combination of ingredients that I use whenever I want to make a curry. Onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic paste, ground red chilli, coriander and turmeric, some meat masala powder and some curry leaves. The proportions might change; I might play around with some additional spices. There might be a splash of coconut milk. Or a tadka. Still, there is an underlying repetition – one of familiar comfort, based on my Kerala roots that I go back to over and over again.
Unless of course, I force myself to take a deviation and do something different like a North Indian gravy (something I cannot, I must confess, live on every day. I like my coconuts and my set combination of South Indian spices. There, I said it!). Or like in the present case, when bottles containing some of my spice mixes roll their eyes at me and remind me of when I used them last.

I have used this Coriander and Cumin Powder as well as Bengali Garam Masala in the curry, both of which are leftovers from my affair with Kosha Mangsho (Slow Cooked Bengali Lamb Roast). While I had used them afterwards in some dishes, they are not obviously my regular choice for gravies. Both of these make the curry take a different turn from my familiar routes, but the coconut milk (as well as the basic technique) still makes it sufficiently homey.

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry 

I had a few butternut squashes with me that were on the miniature side. (They were about a 100 gm each. My produce people assured me this is usual for a butternut squash – may be because they are pesticide and inorganic fertilizer free.) The squashes were not enough to make a soup or something else on their own, which is why I settled on a mixed curry.

Also, I wanted the curry to be something mild and creamy and so have made this purposely low on spices. That, along with the sweetness from the coconut milk and butternut squash makes it a good alternative to pour over rice or couscous.
Serves 3 to 4

  1. Butternut Squash, seeds removed and cut into small cubes - 2 cups
  2. Chickpeas, boiled (or from a can) and drained - 1 and a 1/2 to 2 cups (If boiled, reserve the boiling water and use in the curry instead of water. Rinse and drain, if you are using canned chickpeas.)
  3. Baby Spinach - 2 cups, somewhat packed
  4. Onion, sliced - 1 cup
  5. Tomatoes, diced - 2/3 cup
  6. Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 generous tsp.
  7. Coriander and Cumin Powder - 2 tsp. (Or use 1 and 1/4 tsp. of ground Coriander and 3/4 tsp of Ground Cumin. You can change the ratio if you want to use less cumin.)
  8. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  9. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  10. Garam Masala - 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (I used a combination of this Garam Masala and this Homemade Meat Masala Powder. See Notes.)
  11. Thick Coconut Milk - 1/2 cup
  12. Coriander Leaves - A few (chopped) to garnish (Optional.)
  13. Salt
  14. Water - About 2 cups (Start with 1 cup and add more as needed.)
  15. Coconut Oil or a Neutral Tasting Oil

Heat up a pan and add some oil. Tip in the onions and saute till they turn a light brown. Now add the ginger garlic paste and saute till the raw smell goes. Add coriander and cumin powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Stir around for a minute, taking care not to burn the powders.

Now add the tomatoes and cook till they get well blended with everything else. Add the diced butternut squash, salt and a cup of water. Cook covered till the squash is done, but not falling to pieces. Check at intervals, stir and add more water as needed.

Now add the chickpeas and let it cook in the gravy for a couple of minutes at least. Add the spinach and let them wilt. Finally, add the coconut milk and switch off when it begins to simmer. Add the Meat Masala Powder and/or Garam Masala. Check for seasoning and adjust. Add more Garam Masala if needed.
Garnish with coriander leaves if you are using them. You can optionally add a touch of lime juice as well or serve the curry with a wedge of lime on the side, especially if the tomatoes were not at all sour.

Serve as a side with Couscous, Quinoa or Rice.

  1. You can use a Garam Masala of your choice. Adjust the quantity to taste.
  2. If you are not using the Homemade Meat Masala, it would be good if you can add a little bit of powdered fennel.
  3. I retained the skin of the squash as they cook very well. However, you can remove them if you like.


  1. I love the way this curry looks... so full of flavors and comforting...

  2. My favourite's just too good

    1. Quite late with a reply - But thank you, Hiba.


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